Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 12/21/13

Merry Soon-to-be-Christmas, comic book lovers! Have you got your presents all bought and wrapped? Plane tickets home to visit the family? Menorah put out and safely tucked away until next year? If only the world was such a place that we could give everybody comics and everybody would be happy. Nope! Instead, I actually had to go and pick out specific gifts for everybody. I doubt my aunt would have anything to do with an All-New X-Men tpb.

Speaking of All-New X-Men, it’s in our pile this week, which is – admittedly – a little short. I guess the week just got away from me and I wasn’t able to read too many off my stack. But we’ve got some good titles here, including Wonder Woman and the first issue of the new Harley Quinn series! I bet there are a lot of happy Harley fans out there. I’m only lukewarm at best, and that’s exactly how I feel about this first issue. It’s a fine start, I suppose, but it’s not going to win any awards for creativity.

But if they’re handing out awards for adorkableness, then FF would win’em all! We’re gearing up for the big finish, and the family Allred are pulling out all the stops! FF #15 easily smashes its way into Comic Book of the Week with it’s fantastically fun use of the FF kids and their robotic assault on Castle Doom!

Comic Reviews: All-New X-Men #20, FF #15, Harley Quinn #1, Wonder Woman #26 and X-Men #8.

All-New X-Men #20

All-New X-Men #20
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mahmud Asrar and Brandon Peterson

I am completely in favor of X-23 joining the cast of All-New X-Men. In fact, I think it’s kind of inspired. The comic is about the original X-Men living and operating in the present day, and it’s been great so far. Part of the reason this story is around now is because this is the 50th anniversary of the X-Men. And there’s no arguing that Wolverine is the most famous X-Man in the title’s history. But rather than plugging Wolverine into the cast, Bendis had instead picked an alternate kind of Wolverine, who just so happens to be a teenager, like the rest of the cast.

Adding X-23 to All-New X-Men is like adding the flavor of Wolverine to the original X-Men without having to use Wolverine himself, and in terms of honoring X-history, that’s pretty cool.

Though that cover is a lying piece of garbage.

X-23 wakes up in the infirmary after the X-Men rescued her last issue, but she’s angry and lost, so she charges out of the facility with the X-Men in pursuit. Young Cyclops goes out to talk to her, and they bond a little bit as he convinces her to help them go after the Purifiers, who were attacking her last issue. The X-Men track them down and launch an assault, but their leader, the son of William Stryker, reveals some kind of power of his own, and he knocks them all out with an energy blast.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

I have zero interest in the Purifiers. They are stupid, mindless, insane villains with no depth and no character beyond ‘religious fanatic’. Yes, I suppose these kinds of people exist, but they don’t necessarily make for good antagonists, especially not in a Bendis comic. His talents have always been for great character work, and there’s just no character to the Purifiers. So the second half of the comic, when the team goes after the Purifiers, it’s all just boring comic book action. The surprise twist that the Purifier leader has some kind of energy blast power does not make them interesting.

The only good part of this comic came from the talking heads in the beginning. Young Cyclops’ attempts to calm X-23 down and be her friend were very well done, especially their awkward hug. Though Bendis ruined it just a little by having Jean read Scott’s mind to find out that he’s got a little crush on X-23. I would have preferred this sort of relationship develop naturally instead of being bombarded with clues and hints that they might hook up. I went into this issue expecting them to kiss, like on that filthy, lying cover, but if I didn’t expect that, the scene would have read like Cyclops being the leader he was born to be, and any romantic feelings would have been a welcome surprise after the fact.

So there was a slight fumble when it came to any budding relationship between Cyclops and X-23, but at least their talk was the same solid characterization we’ve come to expect from this series. Also, isn’t it about time she got a new codename?

FF #15

FF #15
Writers: Lee Allred and Matt Fraction
Artists: Mike and Laura Allred

This is what it looks like when a plan comes together. Every thread that Fraction and the family Allred have been stringing together since the start of this series starts to pay off this issue with the final assault on Doctor Doom’s castle. Mechanized Thing-suits, at least one of them in a pink dress! Adolph the Impossible Boy! The courage of Darla Deering! Julius Casear vs. Sun Tzu! The adorable awesomeness of Bentley-23!

The people over in the X-Men franchise wish they could make Quentin Quire as wicked as Bentley-23.

The assault on Doctor Doom’s castle begins! First, all of the Future Foundation students are given video game controllers to control an army of Thing-bots into battle. They’re split into teams, with the winning team getting a raise in allowance and the losing team having to take piano lessons. Bentley is determined not to lose! Second, that magician from the past uses his power to negate Doom’s magic. Turg takes over some of the castle’s networks and systems. Fourth, She-Hulk, Medusa and Darla use a gizmo to rob Doom of his power. And then Scott shows up to finish him off – but first we cut to cliffhanger!

Also, every step of the plan is laid out in the beginning to a delightful rhyme. That was a nice touch.

Comic Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

The only bad thing about this issue is that it had to end on a cliffhanger! Why couldn’t Marvel have bumped this up into a double-sized issue to really slam home the victory? FF #15 was a giddy joy to read, with the Allreds pulling out all the stops in this madcap battle. Rarely are superhero slugfests so entertaining.

I am slightly disappointed that the Four themselves weren’t really the stars of the issue, but then She-Hulk and Medusa have always kind of played second-fiddle to Scott, Darla and the Future Foundation kids. And the antics of those kids, as they led the charge into Doom’s castle, just couldn’t be beat. I especially loved Bentley switching from a Thing-suit to a robotic Iron Man and acting as if he were changing a character class in role-playing game. I loved Bentley’s inspiring speech to his team (as well as bribing them with Mountain Doop).

Of course, in spite of all these shenanigans with the students, I’m even more excited by the prospect of Scott Lang facing off with Doom next issue. I wasn’t around when Doom killed Lang’s daughter, but Fraction and the gang have done a great job with Lang’s grief in FF. Here’s hoping the team maintains this level of awesome going into the grand finale!

Harley Quinn #1

Harley Quinn #1
Writers: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Chris Hardin

Why isn’t Amanda Conner drawing this book? Conner is a huge selling point, and she could have turned this book into a Must Buy for everybody. Not that Hardin does a bad job, but Conner would have killed.

Anyway, I decided to give this comic a try because I like to keep myself open to new ideas. I’ve always been a general fan of Harley Quinn, though I’ve barely touched her in the New 52. As noted Batmanologist Chris Sims recently pointed out, there’s a big problem with Harley in the New 52, and I kind of agree with him. But what the heck, let’s see what Harley Quinn #1 has in store…

Harley Quinn has inherited an apartment building on Coney Island, so she and her talking gopher (??) move on in. The bottom floors are a bunch of Coney Island freak show businesses, the second floor are tenants who own and work in those businesses, the third floor is storage and the fourth floor is Harley’s big new spacious apartment. Conveniently spacious. But rent from the businesses and tenants doesn’t cover all the bills, so Harley has to get a job. She interviews as Dr. Quinzel at a nearby therapist’s office, and then she tries out for and gets a job at a local no-holds-barred female roller derby. Everything is looking pretty well-in-hand, except that someone has posted a $2 million bounty on her head, and Harley and her new friends have to stop a few killers trying to cash in.

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

There were times reading this issue when I thought this was a parody, only to be shocked to see everything played completely straight. This issue is all set up for the new series, but it’s just so obviously set up that I almost didn’t believe it. I thought Conner and Palmiotti were pulling some kind of satirical prank. Harley randomly moves into a new building with a colorful cast of tenants. Harley’s own apartment is a big, spacious room with rooftop access. Harley gets a dog. Harley gets a job at the roller derby. Someone has put a price on Harley’s head. It’s all just so blatantly set up that it’s like she was going through an assembly line: here’s your setting, here’s your spacious apartment, here’s your cast of wacky supporting characters, he’s  few subplots and here’s your main plot. It’s a little off-putting.

Has Harley been so screwed over in the New 52 that she needs such a basic, by-the-numbers set up? I assume that talking gopher came from somewhere…

If I was a huge Harley Quinn fan, I imagine I would love this comic. She’s written as a solid character, she has a lot of fun, she’s got a great new life, and the art is pretty good. It’s ideal if all you want to do is love Harley completely separate from the Joker. But as a casual fan of the character (at best), what’s the point? Where’s the drama? Where’s the intrigue? Conner and Palmiotti aren’t doing anything new or risky with the superhero genre. Harley Quinn #1 is as generically entertaining as modern day superhero comics could get.

Wonder Woman #26

Wonder Woman #26
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Goran Sudzuka

Compare Harley Quinn to Wonder Woman, one of DC’s best comics for 26 issues running. Since the beginning, the New 52 Wonder Woman series has had a clear purpose, a clear plot, and everything from Wonder Woman’s character to her great supporting cast has emerged organically from that purpose. Azzarello has slowly and expertly grown the world around Wonder Woman, making it all the richer. In Harley Quinn #1, Conner and Palmiotti just handed everything to Harley right off the bat, and none of it particularly matters.

Everything Azzarello has built into Wonder Woman so far, from the emphasis on the Greek Gods to her friendships with Orion and the rest, could become crucial parts of her character going forward. But I feel like everything Harley was just handed could disappear after her series is cancelled in eight issues and nobody will ever remember that she had anything to do with them.

Orion, Wonder Woman and Hermes assault Cassandra’s base because she’s holding Milan hostage in an effort to learn the whereabouts of the First Born. After some epic fighting, Cassandra threatens to kill Milan, so Wonder Woman simply tells her that the First Born is on Olympus. Cassandra leaves, but not before strapping a bomb to Milan’s chest. Orion grabs him and takes him into a Boom Tube, though we don’t know if either of them made it out alive. Wonder Woman returns home to find out that Strife has convinced Zola to leave, so that she doesn’t put anyone else in danger. However, no sooner is Zola out of the house than she’s visited by Dio.

Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.

Wonder Woman #26 was just another solidly entertaining chapter in this ongoing saga. The battle against Cassandra’s henchmen is as epic as most battles in this series, though I did wonder where the heck all those minions came from? How come villains always have armies of willing henchmen to fight for them, but the heroes never have anybody but themselves? I also didn’t get why Milan was so reluctant to reveal that the First Born is on Olympus. The guy is the prisoner of Apollo, king of the gods. Are Cassandra’s henchmen just gonna storm up there and rescue him? Her forces seem oddly overwhelming considering how little she’s done in the grand scheme of things.

But at least the fight brought out the best in characters like Hermes and Orion. I don’t believe for a second that Orion is dead, but it was a big moment for the character nonetheless. Meanwhile, Zola got a pretty stupid character moment as Strife somehow convinced her to flee right into the arms of the bad guys. What a dingbat!

X-Men #8

X-Men #8
Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Terry Dodson and Barry Kitson

This comic and I might be parting ways soon. I’m enjoying it well enough, but I need to trim my comic book budget, and there just isn’t anything stand out about this series. The X-Men franchise is on fire these days, with more than enough books to fill your X-needs. We, each of us, needs to decide which X-Men comics are the ones we want. And I’m afraid X-Men might not be for me.

Typhoid Mary broke into the Jean Grey School with no trouble at all and escaped with the remains of Arkea, though she got caught fleeing, and Psylocke gave chase all the way back to her home base in Colombia – where Lady Deathstroke is meeting with John Sublime. He warns Deathstrike not to use Arkea, but she doesn’t listen to him. However, they find out that the piece of Arkea trapped in the X-Men’s equipment is dead, so Typhoid Mary reads John’s mind to find some other locations of where her essence might be. They head out to one of them and find the Enchantress randomly living nearby, so she’s recruited into the team.

Meanwhile, Bling reveals that she now has a crush on Jubilee, and she totally steals a kiss!

Comic Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

Somehow, beyond all reason, Terry Dodson’s work was even worse in this issue. It’s only the second issue of X-Men he’s been on, why does the comic need half a dozen different inkers and a supporting artist? Terry Dodson can’t even get through two issues? The art was abysmal in some places, but I suppose not enough to kill the story, which…I dunno. Seems kind of basic to me. One of the classic bad guys is out doing bad guy things, and the X-Men remain several steps behind until it’s time to pop their heads in for a bit to check on the villain’s progress. For a book that’s supposed to be about a team of all-girl X-Men, this comic sure focuses a lot of attention on John Sublime.

And Lady Deathstrike’s new sisterhood sure seems as random as the last Sisterhood of Evil Mutants in an X-Men comic. They just happen to stumble upon Enchantress? Their crashing plane is able to pass through a barrier that Thor put in place with Asgardian magic? All of that is just way too much of a stretch to take too seriously. At least Wood has a nifty idea in Deathstrike wanting to use Arkea as a body modification. That plot point has legitimate worth. But he’s clearly far more interested in both his new Deathstrike and John Sublime to put any focus on the X-Men themselves.

If the guy loves John Sublime, so be it, I can hardly get mad at him. If I was writing an X-Men comic, you better believe the Mimic would be at the forefront, regardless of context.

The subplot with Bling and Jubilee is cute, at least. Though, as someone else pointed out in my last review, what the heck is Mercury’s problem? Is Wood really turning her into some kind of anti-gay bigot? What’s up with that? I think I would be OK with Jubilee and Bling hooking up. The only solid relationship Jubilee has ever been a part of was with Robin in the Marvel vs. DC crossover.

The comics I review in my Hench-Sized reviews are just the usual comics I pick up from my local shop any given week, along with a few impulse buys I might try on a whim. So if there are any comics or series you’d like me to review each week, let me know in the comments!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on December 21, 2013, in Comics, DC, Marvel, Reviews, X-Men and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. ANXM was good. Bendis doesn’t have Laura’s voice right, though. Bendis has a very distinctive dialogue style, and he needs to not use that style with Laura. Other than that, good book.

    FF was pretty hilarious. A whole lot of fun.

    X-Men was great. I love the growing Sisterhood – it’s a very interesting team so far. And I actually really, really like the Bling! subplot. It’s just some really nice high school drama, and it’s cool. I’m interested in seeing where it goes. Mercury’s reaction to Bling kissing Jubilee was interesting. I’m wondering if, perhaps, Mercury might actually be attracted to Bling, and her confusion over those feelings was what led her to react badly by punching her. That’s what her expression in this issue suggests to me. I wouldn’t be too surprised if, later on, Mercury actually winds up agreeing to go out with Bling. For right now, though, I’m curious how Jubilee will feel about the kiss. Man, I love comics about interpersonal drama.

    • I was kind of thinking that same thing about Mercury, but I was worried that would be a little too predictable. But I would definitely still be in favor of it. I love interpersonal drama too, and would love to see more of that in the series than everybody chasing after Wood’s pet characters and concepts.

      • I’m enjoying the whole thing. I accept Sublime because Morrison’s New X-Men run was just so damned good. I always thought Sublime was kind of a silly concept – a bacteria that secretly controls the world is exactly the kind of thing that bores me – but it was well-written. And Wood’s doing some cool stuff with Sublime, too, so I’m fine with it, and with Arkea, and the Sisterhood.

        I’m just hoping we get some more sniping between Monet and Jubilee. I love those two.

      • Agreed! That Jubilee/Monet stuff is great so far.

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